In case you haven’t heard, there is currently a pair of bills being discussed by both sides of congress that, if passed, will have a profound effect on how the Internet works and enable tools for the government to censor the Internet in profound ways. The U.S. Senate’s version of the bill is called the “Protect-IP Act of 2011” or PIPA. PIPA’s U.S. House counterpart is called the “Stop Online Privacy Act of 2011” or SOPA. Watch this video (YouTube) to get an idea about the goals of these bills. These bills are bad for the Internet and bad for free speech. Below is the text of a letter I sent to my congressional representation encouraging them to understand the ramifications of the bills and fight against them. I encourage you to contact your representation as well. You can steal as much from my letter as is useful.
[Greeting and introduction]. I am concerned about a bill that is in progress in the U.S. Senate [U.S. House]. That bill is the PROTECT IP Act or PIPA [Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA]. While I understand that the stated goal of this act is to protect intellectual property, the mechanisms that this bill will enable will break the Internet’s openness and present the government with revolutionary tools to enact censorship on a platform that should be open and free. The technology proposed to support this bill is not that different from that being used in China, North Korea, and Iran where free speech is stifled. While the goals of this act may be different than those of oppressive governments, we should not allow our government to seize such controls for any reason.
In addition to the technical issues this bill would create, there are additional financial burdens that will be placed on businesses. Businesses face the threat of increased costs to ensure compliance with the provisions of PIPA [SOPA]. Along with these costs are increased legal fees that could result from the frivolous lawsuits that this bill could enable. While businesses of all sizes will be affected by this new financial burden, it will no doubt have the greatest effect on small and medium businesses, which are the backbone of the American economy and drivers of innovation.
The United States is built on the freedom of speech. The Internet is the greatest enabler of free speech. If choosing between protecting intellectual property and free speech, I hope that all Americans would choose free speech. I believe that there are ways to protect intellectual property without hampering free speech. American business is full of brilliant minds, and there is no reason we cannot find a way to solve this problem without damaging the single greatest technological innovation of our time.
I have seen too many people in your position refuse to understand the seriousness of this bill. Many senators [congressmen and congresswomen] refuse to take time to understand the basic ideas of how the Internet works and allow this bill to move along based purely on their own ignorance. Please don’t allow this attitude to infect you. This is a serious matter that will have a profound effect on the Internet’s infrastructure for this and future generations. Please take time to understand what PIPA [SOPA] really means for the freedom of speech and the Internet and use your office to oppose it.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Kevin L. Dayton